No one expected this. The United States Men's National Team's 21 match unbeaten streak against Guatemala came to a shocking end, with Guatemala defeating the U.S. 2-0.
The U.S. players looked nervous in the opening minutes and failed to connect simple passes. As a result, Guatemala dominated the early goings and opened the scoring in the 7th minute. From a corner-kick, Rafael Morales' seemingly harmless header took a wicked deflection off of the back of Mix Diskerud leaving Tim Howard helpless.
With the U.S. disjointed, Guatemala was able to double its lead through a Carlos Ruiz goal. The wily veteran appeared to have been offside, but the referees thought otherwise. A bouncing Paulo Motta goal-kick split the U.S. defense, putting Carlos Ruiz in alone on goal and Ruiz made no mistake as he put Guatemala ahead 2-0 just 15 minutes into the match.
The U.S. had its best goal-scoring opportunity of the half in the 23rd minute, thanks to a perfect ball over the top by Clint Dempsey. Dempsey's pass put Alejandro Bedoya one-on-one with the Guatemalan keeper Paulo Motta, who easily saved the shot Bedoya blasted right at him.
The U.S. created few chances in the first-half as the team's strategy of continuously sending long balls for Bobby Wood to chase failed to work.
To start the second half, Jurgen Klinsmann replaced the ineffective Mix Diskerud with Darlington Nagbe. Guatemala also made a change with Marco Pappa being brought in for Stefano Cincotta.
Guatemala had two chances early in the second half, but both attempts were sent well over Tim Howard's goal.
Clint Dempsey should have scored for the U.S. in the 52nd minute, after he collected DeAndre Yedlin's low driven cross about 12 yards out from goal. Paulo Motta made an excellent diving save, thwarting Dempsey. The ball then quickly fell to Alejandro Bedoya, who forced Motta to make a tough save.
Dempsey had another excellent chance, in the 57th minute thanks to a great run from Darlington Nagbe. As Nagbe blew by the Guatemalan defense, he cut the ball back to Bobby Wood near the top of the box. Wood laid the ball off to Dempsey, who fired his shot right at the Guatemalan goalkeeper.
With the U.S. desperately needing a goal, forward Gyasi Zardes was brought on for center-back Michael Orozco in the 59th minute.
In the 66th minute, Klinsmann decided to once again replace a defender with a forward, bringing on Jozy Altidore for Omar Gonzalez.
The USMNT continued to struggle defending set pieces, despite its significant height advantage. In the 71st minute, goal scorer Rafael Morales received the ball off of a corner kick and was unlucky as his header crashed off the crossbar.
Jozy Altidore was denied by an outstanding save in the 81st minute. With Altidore ten yards out on the right side of the box, his shot was kicked away by a fully extended Paulo Motta.
Despite the U.S. having the better of the chances in the second-half, the team was unable to convert and Guatemala deservedly won.
Paulo Motta Has a Great Performance
The U.S. had five shots on target and Guatemala only had three. Thanks to excellent goalkeeping by goalkeeper Paulo Motta the U.S. failed to score.
Motta made a spectacular one v. one save versus Bedoya in the first-half and showed great reflexes by making two difficult saves in quick succession in the 52nd minute. Additionally, Motta was credited with an assist on the opening goal. He had a man of the match performance and while some may say the USMNT's shooting was poor, Motta truly earned his shutout.
The U.S. Needs a Win in Columbus
While this loss is troubling, the U.S. does not need to panic. Although the USMNT is currently third in the group, (the top two teams qualify for the Hexagonal) there are still three games left to play in this round of qualifying.
The USMNT could conceivably loss on Tuesday against Guatemala and still qualify, however a loss in Columbus would make things difficult. The U.S. needs to redeem itself and dispel any worries about qualifying for the Hex, with a win on Tuesday against Guatemala.
Michael Bradley Forced to Play as Defensive Midfielder
During Jurgen Klinsmann's reign, the U.S. has never truly had a #10. Michael Bradley has often been asked to play this role, but he is more of a box-to-box midfielder than a playmaking #10. With the USMNT struggling to connect passes in the early going, Bradley decided to drop deep to help better connect the defense to the midfield.
While Bradley's positional adjustment helped the U.S. to gain better possession, it limited his offensive effectiveness. With Bradley playing so deep, the U.S. had no one in the midfield creating chances. The suspended Jermaine Jones was clearly missed as neither Mix Diskerud nor Darlington Nagbe is a true defensive midfielder.
The USMNT needs Bradley to play higher up the field in order to be successful. Klinsmann needs to pair Bradley with a true defensive midfielder such as Jermaine Jones, Dax McCarty, Wil Trapp, or Perry Kitchen.